Posts Tagged ‘A Ghost Is Born’

There is nothing quite like A Ghost Is Born in Wilco’s discography. Ghost (even more than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which has been roundly embraced as a masterpiece) is the difficult album. There’s a steady hum of dread and anxiety buzzing beneath these tracks. It rises to the surface on the Krautrock workout “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and on “Less Than You Think,” a lengthy ambient drone meant to simulate Jeff Tweedy’s debilitating migraines. But “Less” aside, this isn’t exactly Metal Machine Music; Tweedy’s songwriting is generous and urgent, even—or especially—in the face of his personal battles with anxiety and depression. “Hummingbird” is perfect McCartney pop, “Handshake Drugs” is a cryptic snapshot of the singer’s addiction to painkillers and “At Least That’s What You Said”—a haunted murmur of a love song that erupts in a remarkable guitar tantrum—might just be Wilco’s finest song ever. Wilco’s art-rock period ended soon after A Ghost Is Born. Twelve years later, it remains one of the band’s most puzzling and rewarding creations.

A Ghost Is Bornsits neatly in the middle of Wilco’s ten studio albums. As the band’s centre, the record is their turning point and their most exploratory.

The first two minutes of “At Least That’s What You Said” is raw emotion. It’s one hell of an album opener. Until that two minute mark where everything is ripped to shreds and Tweedy comes in on electric guitar with one of the best riffs of his career. It’s on “Ghostwhere Tweedy is prominently on the guitar for the entire record, the only time that’s happened on Wilco’s LPs. He used the guitar to translate something impossible to hold: pain.

There are many side stories of the Wilco arc including—but not limited to—record labels and disgruntled band members. The most important concerning “A Ghost Is Bornis headaches. Tweedy has been plagued by chronic migraines his whole life, vomiting and all. The month before Ghost’s release he checked into a clinic for migraines, depression, and anxiety attacks. It put off a tour, where the band was playing a lot of the record before it came out. Soon after, he became addicted to the painkillers prescribed to him. Tweedy then checked into rehab, one that would treat addiction and depression after realizing he couldn’t fight one battle without facing the other.

He wanted to push his headaches and panic attacks out through six strings. “A Ghost Is Bornis a sweeping landscape of Jeff Tweedy’s guitar and therefore, of his head. In this context “At Least That’s What You Said” is crisp and anything but concise. When the piano and drums come in and pound together, it’s a pulse. “A Ghost Is Bornis often building up to break us back down. The lyrics are a whimper and the melody a rage. For someone with so much pain and confusion, it’s amazing he’s able to find beauty in it. To take it one step further and share that beauty is nearly fantastical.

Tweedy is an unstoppable musician on this record. I find myself reminding fellow Wilco fans of Tweedy’s guitar work, of his genius with the instrument, and the power and dexterity he can deliver. Resident jazz rock guitarist Nels Cline joined the band in 2004 but doesn’t appear until 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky”. “A Ghost Is Born” is all Tweedy.

There are new members who joined up for “Ghost”. Keyboard player Mikael Jorgensen, formerly Wilco’s sound engineer, is here and shares some song writing credits with Tweedy. Jorgensen formally introduces himself on track two, “Hell Is Chrome,” with a bright opening riff on the piano. Keyboards have always been an important part of Wilco, but on “Ghostthey expand alongside Tweedy’s guitar forming cacophonous riffs. Jorgensen also plays rocksichord, organ, synthesizer, and a Farfisa (an electric organ) on the LP, bringing new textures to play with.  

Tweedy entered rehab for an addiction to painkillers just two weeks before the release of “Ghost”, the band’s fifth studio album, and when he came back sobre it was too late to delete the 12 minutes of gray noise that close the LP. The album’s theme of self-identity was manifested by more significant band contributions. Also because this was the album between the dismissal of Jay Bennett and the addition of Nels Cline, Tweedy played most of the lead guitar and leaned heavily on Television records (and a lesson from Richard Lloyd) for guidance. Ironically, this organic-sounding LP was pieced together through Pro Tools software, but Tweedy came in armed with a great batch of songs.

Happy 15th Anniversary to Wilco’s fifth studio album “A Ghost Is Born”, originally released June 22nd, 2004.